The quarrel of the Greeks
on the divinity of Alexander 

Arrian, Anabasis, Book IV, 10.5-11

Translated by Niall Mc Closkey

The following story concerning Kallisthenes' opposition to Alexander's policy an obeisance is widely known.

It had been decided by Alexander and the sophists and the leading Persians and Medes at the court to introduce the topic [of deification] at the drinking session. Anaxarchos began the discussion with the suggestion that it would be more appropriate to look on Alexander as a god than on Herakles or Dionysos. not only because of the number and nature of his achievements but also because Dionysos was a Theban with no connections to the Macedonians and Herakles was a native of Argos whose only connection with the Macedonians was through the family of Alexander himself which was descended from him. It would be much more fitting for the Macedonians to accord divine honours to their own king. He went on that, since there was no question but that the Macedonians would honour Alexander as a god after he had departed from among men, it would be all the more proper to glorify him in this way while he was still alive than when he was dead and could profit nothing from being so honoured.

11. After Anaxarchos had finished his speech which included these and other similar sentiments, those who were privy to the ploy began to praise the speech and were eager to begin the obeisance but the majority of the Macedonians present were outraged by the speech and remained silent. Kallisthenes, however, spoke up and said:

`Anaxarchos, I acknowledge that Alexander is worthy of every honour that is appropriate for a human being, but what honours are appropriate for human beings and what are appropriate for gods have always been differentiated in many ways by human beings. For the gods, temples are built, statues are erected, sacred precincts are reserved, sacrifices are made, libations are poured and hymn are composed: for human beings, speeches of praise are made.

`The most important distinction is made in this very area of obeisance. Human beings greet one another with a kiss but, because the divine is situated so far above us and it is forbidden even to touch it, it [the divine] is honoured with obeisance, ritual dances are performed for the gods and paeans are sung to them There is nothing surprising about this since honours are paid differently to different gods and, by Zeus, the honours paid to heroes are different also, quite clearly distinguished from those paid to the gods.

It is wrong to interfere with this hierarchy of honours by elevating human beings to excessive heights by extravagant honours and to reduce, to the degree that human beings can, the gods to a shameful level by according the same honours to human beings. Alexander himself would not tolerate a private citizen introducing himself to his royal privileges by some undeserved acclamation or election. All the more justly, therefore would the gods be angered at human beings who introduce themselves to the prerogatives of the divine or who tolerate themselves being introduced to them by others. [As a human being] Alexander is, and is recognised, to be the bravest of the brave, the kingliest of the kingly and the most able to lead of the leaders

Anaxarchos, you above all others should have been the one to put forward objections of this kind and to have silenced those who spoke otherwise, since you are here as Alexander's adviser and teacher. It was wrong of you to have introduced this topic and to have forgotten that you are the companion and councilor, not of Kambyses or Xerxes, but of the son of Philip, the descendant of Herakles and Aiakos, of one whose ancestors come to Macedonia from Argos and have ruled the Macedonians since not by force but by law. Not even to Herakles were divine honours paid while he still alive, indeed not even after his death until honouring him as a god was sanctioned by the god at Delphi.

`It may be, however, that, because we are having this discussion in an alien country, we must think alien thoughts. All the same, I ask you, Alexander, to remember Greece on whose behalf this expedition to add Asia onto Greece was undertaken. Think about this also: When you go back to Greece, will you force the Greeks, the most freedom-loving of all peoples, into obeisance? Or will you exempt the Greeks impose this degradation on the Macedonians alone? Or again perhaps a general distinction will be made about honours so that you will be honoured on a human and a Greek scale by Greeks and Macedonians but in the barbarian manner by the barbarians?

It is said that Kyros son of Kambyses was the first to accept obeisance and that, because of this, this degrading procedure has endured among the Persians and the Medes. Bear in mind, however, that that Kyros learned humility at the hands of the Scythians, a poor but free people, Dareios at the hands of a later generation of Scythians, Xerxes Athenians and the Spartans, Artaxexes at the hands of the Klearchos and Xenophon with the Ten Thousand and another Dareios at the hands of this Alexander who has received the obeisance of no man.